Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How The Brain Understands Pictures

Date:
August 10, 2005
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
Special circuits in the brain's visual center automatically organize what one sees into a "whole" even as one's attention is focused only on one part of a scene.

The figure is famous: a deceptively simple line drawing that at first glance resembles a vase and, at the next, a pair of human faces in profile. When you look at this figure, your brain must rapidly decide what the various lines denote. Are they the outlines of the vase or the borders of two faces? How does your brain decide?

It does so in a fraction of a second via special nerve circuits in the brain's visual center that automatically organize information into a "whole" even as an individual's gaze and attention are focused on only one part, according to Johns Hopkins researchers writing in a recent issue of the journal Neuron.

"Our paper answers the century-old question of the basis of subconscious processes in visual perception, specifically, the phenomenon of figure-ground organization," said Rudiger von der Heydt, a professor in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind-Brain Institute. "Early in the 20th century, the Gestalt psychologists postulated the existence of mechanisms that process visual information automatically and independently of what we know, think or expect. Since then, there has always been the question as to whether these mechanisms actually exist. They do. Our work suggests that the system continuously organizes the whole scene, even though we usually are attending only to a small part of it."

The report, based on recordings of nerve cells in the visual cortex of macaque monkeys, suggests that this automatic processing of images is repeated each time an individual looks at something new, usually three to four times per second. What's more, the brain provides what von der Heydt calls "a sophisticated program" to select and process the information that is relevant at any given moment.

"The result of this organization is an internal data structure, quite similar to a database, that allows the attention mechanism to work efficiently," von der Heydt said. "An image can be compared with a bag of thousands of little Lego blocks in chaotic order. To pay attention to an object in space, the visual system first has to arrange this bag of blocks into useful 'chunks' and provide threads by which one or the other chunk can be pulled out for further processing."

He noted that the research provides the theoretical foundation that might one day lead to better diagnosis and treatment of human brain disorders.

"The last decades have seen rapid progress in the neurosciences at a very broad front, particularly at the molecular and cellular levels, and this progress makes it increasingly clear that we still lack sufficient understanding of brain function at the 'system level,'" he said. "We need to understand the basis of mental processes. Single cell recording in animals is only one approach to this formidable task. It is complemented by new brain imaging techniques, traditional psychophysics, psychology and computational and theoretical neuroscience. � Understanding the function of the visual cortex will help to interpret neurological symptoms in diseases that produce disorders of vision."

###

This work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The paper, "Figure and Ground in Visual Cortex: V2 Combines Stereoscopic Cues with Gestalt Rules" appeared in the July 7, 2005, issue of Neuron (Volume 47).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "How The Brain Understands Pictures." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 August 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050810130507.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2005, August 10). How The Brain Understands Pictures. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050810130507.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "How The Brain Understands Pictures." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050810130507.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed an app to fight jet lag by adjusting your body's light intake. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

AP (Apr. 10, 2014) As states slash funding for mental health services, police officers are interacting more than ever with people suffering from schizophrenia and other serious disorders of the mind. The consequences can be deadly. (April 10) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Newsy (Apr. 9, 2014) A University of Pittsburgh study found pop music that mentions alcohol is linked to higher drinking rates among teens. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins